Commander of the District of Eastern Arkansas to the Commander at Cairo, Illinois

Helena Ark.  March 11th 1863

Sir   I found on assuming command at this point that there was a very large number of contrabands within the lines–more than could be used to any advantage in the government Service, and that they were a very greate burden upon the government and were quite devoid of any facilities for getting a livelihood or taking care of themselves   I have for these reasons been shipping some of them to the North.  I send you to day 100. of them   They will be less of a burden to the government and can be made more useful, and more cheapely fed there than here.  I am Sir Very Truly Your Obdt Servant

B M Prentiss

Brig. Genl. B M Prentiss to Commanding Office Cairo Ills., 11 Mar. 1863, vol. 37 DArk, p. 50, Letters Sent, series 4664, District of Eastern Arkansas, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 2 No. 299, National Archives. In attempting to alleviate the problem of relief at Helena by transporting former slaves to Cairo, General Prentiss was following a precedent established by General Samuel R. Curtis, who, in the summer of 1862, as commander of the Army of the Southwest, had authorized several such shipments. (See The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 661, 663–64, 665.) At the same time, however, Prentiss expanded the scope of northward removals from Helena, adding a new destination–St. Louis–and increasing the numbers transported. On March 3, 1863, for example, he had ordered that 450 blacks, accompanied by Chaplain Samuel Sawyer (superintendent of contrabands at Helena), be shipped to St. Louis, headquarters of the Department of the Missouri–which had been commanded by General Curtis since the previous September. (The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, pp. 565–67.)

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, p. 699.